Do You Eat Green Tomatoes And Are Green Tomatoes Poisonous?: Solanine And Tomatine Toxicity Explained


Have you ever heard the claims that green tomatoes are poisonous and even maybe heard that they can kill you? Are you familiar with the assertions that immature tomatoes are toxic and can be deadly?

In essence, it is safe to consume green tomatoes as long as you consume them in limited quantities. Let’s look at the detail.

Green Tomatoes Contain Low Levels of the Toxic Alkaloid Solanine – But Are Still Safe to Eat In Moderation

Green tomatoes have developed a reputation for being poisonous and containing dangerous levels of the toxic alkaloid solanine. However, the truth is that while green tomatoes do contain some solanine, the levels are too low to cause any harmful effects in most people. This article will examine the facts about solanine in green tomatoes and whether they are actually unsafe to eat.

What Is Solanine and Why Are Green Tomatoes Associated With It?

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Solanine is a poisonous alkaloid found in plants from the nightshade family, including tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant. It is produced in the green parts of these plants, such as the leaves, stems, and unripe fruit.

Solanine serves as a natural pesticide, protecting the plant from insects and animals. However, when ingested by humans in large quantities, it can cause poisoning symptoms like headache, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, and even death in extreme cases.

Green tomatoes in particular have become associated with solanine because they contain higher levels of it compared to ripe, red tomatoes. But are the amounts actually high enough to be dangerous?

How Much Solanine Do Green Tomatoes Contain?

Green tomatoes contain about 7.0071 mg to 21.011 mg of solanine per 100 grams, or 0.00032 to 0.0011 ounces per 3.53 ounces (a typical tomato size).

Ripe tomatoes, on the other hand, contain just 2.2022 mg to 5.3013 mg per 100g, or 0.0001 to 0.0002 ounces per tomato.

So green tomatoes do contain 3 to 4 times more solanine than ripe ones. However, the total amount is still quite low compared to the levels considered potentially toxic.

At What Levels Does Solanine Become Toxic?

Most experts agree that consuming more than 2 to 5 mg of solanine per kilogram of body weight can cause poisoning symptoms. That would equal a dose of around 140 to 350 mg of solanine for a 150 lb person.

To get that much solanine just from green tomatoes, you would have to eat over 40 to 125 pounds in one sitting! Even small immature green tomatoes only contain about 5 to 6 mg total solanine each.

So while green tomatoes have more solanine than ripe ones, the actual quantity is very unlikely to harm humans eating normal amounts.

Are Green Tomatoes Ever Unsafe to Eat?

Green tomatoes are generally safe to consume, especially when eaten in moderation as part of a varied diet. However, there are a few cases where caution should be taken:

  • Avoid green tomatoes that are spoiled or damaged/bruised. Solanine levels may rise as the tomato dies and decays.
  • Only eat the flesh of green tomatoes. Avoid the leaves and stems, as solanine content is much higher in the plant itself.
  • Don’t eat large amounts of green tomatoes (several pounds) in one sitting. Spread intake throughout the week instead.
  • If you have gastrointestinal issues like IBS, be cautious with green tomatoes as solanine may irritate the digestive tract.
  • Pregnant women, children, and the elderly should limit green tomato intake as they are more sensitive to toxins.

Cooking and Preparing Green Tomatoes Safely

Luckily, solanine is water soluble. Washing green tomatoes and discarding the water can lower solanine content. Cooking also degrades some of the alkaloid.

To enjoy green tomatoes safely:

  • Wash thoroughly and peel/core green tomatoes before cooking to remove the highest solanine sections.
  • Avoid fried green tomatoes, as the solanine will remain in the oil. Bake, broil, or stew tomatoes instead to allow the solanine to leach out.
  • If pickling green tomatoes, be sure to boil the pickled slices for 10 minutes before consumption to degrade more solanine.

FAQ

Q: Are green tomatoes poisonous?

A: Yes, green tomatoes contain a toxic substance called solanine, which can cause illness if consumed in large quantities.

Q: What is solanine?

A: Solanine is a toxic alkaloid found in various members of the nightshade family, including green tomatoes and potatoes.

Q: Can solanine poisoning be lethal?

A: In rare cases, solanine poisoning can be lethal, but it typically only occurs when consumed in large amounts or by individuals who are particularly sensitive to the toxin.

Q: How much solanine is present in green tomatoes?

A: The amount of solanine in green tomatoes varies, but it is generally higher in unripe or semi-ripe tomatoes. On average, green tomatoes contain about 0.0071 ounces of solanine per 3.53 ounces of tomato.

Q: Are red tomatoes safe to eat?

A: Yes, fully ripe red tomatoes are safe to eat as they have significantly lower levels of solanine compared to green tomatoes.

Q: Why do green tomatoes have a bitter taste?

A: The bitter taste in green tomatoes is attributed to the presence of solanine. As the tomatoes ripen and turn red, the levels of solanine decrease, resulting in a sweeter flavor.

Q: Do all tomato plants contain solanine?

A: Yes, all tomato plants contain solanine to some extent. However, the levels are generally higher in the green, unripe fruits.

Q: Can green tomatoes be consumed in any way?

A: It is generally advised to avoid consuming green tomatoes, especially in large quantities, as they contain the poisonous alkaloid solanine. However, some recipes call for the use of green tomatoes, such as fried green tomatoes, but caution should be exercised.

Q: What should I do in case of solanine poisoning?

A: If you suspect solanine poisoning or experience symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or headaches after consuming green tomatoes, it is recommended to seek medical attention immediately.

Q: Are there any safe ways to consume green tomatoes?

A: Although green tomatoes are considered poisonous, cooking them thoroughly can help reduce the solanine levels. However, it is still advised to exercise caution and consume them in moderation.

Q: Do you eat green tomatoes?

A: Yes, green tomatoes can be eaten. While they are not as commonly consumed as ripe red tomatoes, there are various recipes that call for the use of green tomatoes.

Q: Are green tomatoes poisonous?

A: Green tomatoes are considered to be less toxic than other parts of the plant, such as the leaves and stems. However, they do contain small amounts of alkaloids called solanine and tomatine, which can be harmful if eaten in large quantities.

Q: What is solanine and tomatine toxicity?

A: Solanine and tomatine are naturally occurring compounds found in nightshade plants, including green tomatoes. They act as a defense mechanism against pests. In humans, consumption of these compounds in high amounts can lead to toxicity.

Q: Is it safe to eat green tomatoes?

A: Yes, green tomatoes are generally safe to eat in moderation. However, it is recommended to avoid consuming large quantities of green tomatoes, especially the green parts of the plant, to minimize the risk of solanine and tomatine toxicity.

Q: Can eating green tomatoes cause poisoning?

A: Eating green tomatoes can potentially cause poisoning if consumed in excessive amounts. The alkaloids present in green tomatoes, namely solanine and tomatine, can have toxic effects on the body when ingested in high concentrations.

Q: What are the symptoms of solanine poisoning?

A: Symptoms of solanine poisoning may include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea, headache, dizziness, and in severe cases, difficulty breathing and changes in heart rate. If you experience these symptoms after consuming green tomatoes, it is important to seek medical attention.

Q: What are the first signs of serious solanine poisoning?

A: The first signs of serious solanine poisoning may include severe gastrointestinal symptoms, such as persistent vomiting and diarrhea, accompanied by neurological symptoms like confusion, hallucinations, and muscle weakness. In such cases, immediate medical assistance is necessary.

Q: How can I safely consume green tomatoes?

A: To safely consume green tomatoes, it is recommended to cook them thoroughly. Cooking breaks down the solanine and tomatine compounds, reducing their toxicity. Fried green tomatoes are a popular dish that involves cooking the tomatoes at a high temperature, which helps to minimize the alkaloid content.

Q: Which parts of the tomato plant contain solanine and tomatine?

A: The green parts of the tomato plant, including the leaves and stems, contain higher concentrations of solanine and tomatine compared to the fruit itself. Therefore, it is advisable to avoid consuming these parts of the plant.

Q: How much solanine do green tomatoes contain?

A: Green tomatoes contain around 0.00032 ounces (about 0.009 grams) of solanine per pound (0.45 kilograms) of fruit. This amount is relatively low and, when consumed in moderation, is unlikely to cause significant toxicity. For comparison, a lethal dose of solanine for an average adult is estimated to be around 22.05 ounces (625 grams).

The Bottom Line

While green tomatoes do contain higher levels of the toxic alkaloid solanine compared to ripe tomatoes, the actual amounts are too low to be dangerous for humans eating normal quantities. As with any food, enjoy green tomatoes in moderation as part of a varied diet, avoid spoiled/damaged tomatoes, and take extra care if you are sensitive to toxins. With proper preparation, green tomatoes can be a tasty and safe way to make use of unripe tomatoes from the garden.

To summarize:

  • Green tomatoes contain 3-4 times more solanine than ripe tomatoes, but still very low overall amounts.
  • Most experts agree levels only become toxic at doses well above what someone could realistically eat.
  • Take precautions with preparation and limit intake if sensitive, but green tomatoes are generally safe to consume.

Conclusion

In summary, green tomatoes contain the toxic alkaloid solanine, as do other nightshade plants like green potatoes. However, the levels are quite low – green tomatoes have around 0.00032 ounces of solanine per 3.53 ounces. To cause toxicity, a human would have to eat 22.05 ounces, so consuming green tomatoes in moderation is safe.

While all tomato plants contain alkaloids like solanine, the highest concentrations are in the leaves and stems versus the green fruit. Still, avoid very immature green tomatoes. As they ripen, solanine levels fall but small amounts remain in the red fruit. Cooking can help reduce solanine, though it is heat-resistant.

If solanine poisoning occurs after eating large amounts of green tomatoes, symptoms like gastrointestinal issues, dizziness, and burning of the throat may arise within 8-12 hours. Though uncommon and rarely fatal, it’s smart to be cautious when consuming any solanaceae plant varieties. Overall, green tomatoes are safe to eat in small quantities as part of a balanced diet.

Lyndon

I’ve been around farming all of my life. Farmers Life Blog is a way I can share my passion for all things farming and gardening and hopefully share some of my knowledge and experience through the process. Shootin' the breeze doesn't have to be confined to the front porch anymore, now there's a whole world to share my deep and abiding love with.

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